Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Self-image struggles

This remains to be a very sensitive topic,as we all, at one time or another, struggled with the way we look.
This one is going to be pretty hard to write- that's why I've been putting it off. But I promised myself that I'll be honest and so I shall be.
It all started when I was very young. My Mom would constantly tell me to "suck my stomach in" (I've always had a bit of a pot belly), to "stand up straight",etc.
Physical attractiveness was very important-back then Russian culture was all about "getting married", and to find a husband you'd have to be attractive, of course.
Still, it wasn't much of an issue until I was about 11-12 (Russian fifth grade). That's when the girls started noticing boys and boys started paying attention to us.
I've decided I could do with loosing  few kilos and to achieve that have completely cut  bread out of my diet (Russians are very big on bread-they eat it with everything AND on it's own).
It worked and: to this day, I don't really eat much bread and don't crave it, either.
I've never been really overweight, but there were few patches in my life when I was a bit "chunky"
But it wasn't until I moved to US when the quest to be thin (which equals "beautiful" in there) really began in earnest.
I was constantly on one diet or another: they would work for a while, but then I'd slip back into my "old ways" and gain the weight back.
I remember one time , when I was working as a waitress in Tropicana Hotel, one of the line cooks said something about my "fat ass". He only did it because he was overwhelmed with three dozen tickets hanging from the pass, not because my ass really was "fat", but it stuck with me.
I've joined Jenny Craig and in 3 months lost about 20 pounds. I was very proud of myself and I've kept the weight off for 6-8 months, I think.
But you can't seriously live on those pre-packaged meals forever.
Besides, I really do love and appreciate food: I truly enjoy combination of the flavours,textures,the presentation. My Dad used to be a great cook and I probably got that appreciation of food from him.
Trouble is, the food doesn't always love me back (but I always forgive it :). What I mean is I would love to  enjoy a nice rich meal every day, but if I do that, it will go straight to my hips,tummy and all the other places-yip, I gain weight quite easily.
So I always had to keep a balance between how much (and what) I eat and how many calories I burn.
Lucky for me, I absolutely hate to sit/lay around: I love to move and walk. It is not a struggle for me to go for a brisk one hour walk daily. So the balance is not that hard to maintain-I just have to be mindful of it.
My affair with bulimia started when I was in my twenties. I saw a movie depicting a woman suffering from it.
It seemed like an easy way around eating whatever you want whenever you want to. Throwing up was not a problem for me: when I was growing up in Russia, food poisoning was not uncommon and I've had it a dozen or so times.  My mom always had me drink tepid water to a point where I could drink no more and  put two fingers down my throat to induce vomiting-that was her way of "clearing up" the food poisoning. It works,actually, as you clear out your stomach completely and there is no offending food left in there.
So I was no stranger to the technique.
I started doing it when I felt that I needed to loose some weight or when I knew I've eaten too much at any one meal. But I wasn't doing it on a regular basis-just occasionally.
Then, when I was in my late thirties ( and married to my last husband), I started doing it systematically.
I've gained some weight (not that much, really, but it bothered me). Looking back at it now, I realise that I was trying to make myself happy and "in control", as I was unhappy in general and couldn't really understand why.
Looking thin always made me feel good and getting to be that way made me feel disciplined.
Frenchy, my flatmate (who seen number of shrinks  for the past few years and is quite adept at explaining things) gave me the theory behind this type of behaviour.
We all have "fault lines/trenches" (like an earthquake kind). They are the behaviours that we developed throughout our lifetime. Whether it's self-harming, bulimia,anorexia,excessive drinking or drug use: they all have to do with the way we've dealt with situations one time or another and,whether wrong or right, they got us through those situations. In time, we stopped those behaviours, but they are still there, entrenched in our brain,laying under the surface.
When unpleasant,stressful events happen in out lives, we are slowly pushed towards those "faults". It doesn't happen straight away: we keep telling ourselves that we're alright, that we can handle situations, but we are, in fact, sliding down. Depending on how much is happening and how bad it is, we are steadily loosing ground.
And then one last thing (it doesn't even have to be something big) tips us over.
The reason we go back to those behaviours is because our subconscious remembers it as a way of "handling" stress without going out of our minds.
For example, people who self-harm, don't do it because they want to cut themselves:it helps them relieve the pressure, take the pain from the inside, where they can't control it, to the outside, where they are very much in charge.
Bulimia is similar: you don't throw up because you want to do just that. You do it because it's the way to maintain control of something (your weight).  For me it is also a way to purge all the hurts that I might have: it feels like everything just leaves my body and, yes, it provides relieve (however temporary) from the "emotional overload".
It worked so often for me in the past, that it is definitely "entrenched": when something really unpleasant and hurtful happens, I just feel like vomiting, without even inducing it, because my brain remembers it as a way to feel better and deal with the turmoil.
Usually there are warning signs, way before you get to the point where you "pushed in the fault"-you just need to know what they are and recognise them and,instead of fighting alone, get some help. It could be as simple as a conversation with your friend or even stranger. Talking things out, hearing yourself say them out loud often gives you a fresh perspective or simply lets a bit of pressure out.
Having someone help you doesn't mean that you failed-it just means that you're not in it alone.

Back when I was severely bulimic, I had a "system": I would eat something for breakfast (if I felt it was too much, I would "get rid of it", but I mostly I kept the breakfast in). Then I'd have something healthy for lunch: a salad. And then whatever was eaten for dinner would "go out" almost straight away.
The problem that goes hand-in-hand with bulimia is binging. It comes from realisation that you will throw up everything anyway, why not indulge in more "forbidden" staff (rich chocolate cakes,ice-cream,etc). And so you continue eating.
At the time I was married to my forth husband and, although I've engaged in those behaviours every day, he never noticed (shows you how much attention he paid and how much he cared :/)
Problem with loosing weight using "bulimia method" is that you get trapped: you're afraid that if you stop vomiting you'll gain the weight back and so you continue on, to give yourself a bit extra "room" for weight gain. The cycle never stops, though.
I did stop, on my own accord, and managed to maintain the balance between the food I consume and exercise.
I relapse from time to time, usually during emotional turmoil, but I always get back on track.
I am actually quite proud of myself: I know I have numerous issues and shortcomings, but I am able to "manage" those on daily basis. I heal myself continually and try to bring that better self to my friends and my partner. I wake up every morning and do things I have to do to find my best self;unfortunately, some days it works better than others. But at least I try.
Bulimia was actually one of the things that brought me and one of my ex's together: she was struggling with self-image issues for years,decades, really and it was beginning to affect her personal and professional life.
She wouldn't tell me about it for a long time and then, one night, when we were both drinking,she kept steering the conversation that way, but,ultimately, made me talk about it first. Then, when I told her all about my dealings with it, she told me her story.
Although typical, hers was really sad: from early childhood she was called "fat" by her father and kept gaining weight up until her mid-twenties, when she has decided that bulimia was the answer. She was at it for a long time and her long-term partner has tried to help her to overcome it. Virginia (the partner) succeeded partially: Sara stopped throwing up everything she ate, but emotional damage was still there. It festered and was one of the reasons for a breakdown of their relationship.
Deep-seeded insecurity combined with the need for constant control and narcissism is a very tough mixture to deal with.
I tried very hard to help Sara and I couldn't, either.
Her next relationship went bust for much the same reasons.
Bulimia is a very tricky disease: it sneaks up on you. You keep thinking that you'd just do it "for a while", to get rid of those extra 3 kg's.. Before you know it, you're trapped and stopping is not so easy.
It is, along with anorexia, one of the most common and wide spread diseases. You can die from it (your heart fails) and it can definitely do some serious damage to your body.
A lot of actresses/models are affected (whether or not they admit it)-the pressure to look thin is just too much. A lot of them honestly admitted to it-Portia Di Rossi wrote a very inspiring book about her struggles with the disease.
There is no sure way to deal with: it is up to each individual to decide what's important and what their priorities are.


  1. Hi.  I just recently discovered you NZG profile and this blog via AF.  Your openness and stark honesty is very refreshing.  Plus your wit is such a turn-on!  I slept late last night browsing through some of your posts.

    However, I'd like to point out a typo from the post above: "Then, when I was in my late thirties ( and married to my last husband)..."

    You definitely don't look anywhere close to mid-30's and your NZG ad says your 32.  Anyway, just being your proofreader here.

    (By the way, I'm 2+2 on AF. ;-) )

  2. Thank you,kindly :). I am very flattered.
    If you look through AF threads (especially the one titled "Iron Lady", you'll discover the whole debate on the subject :)

    Yana. X